“Of course you did,” replied Corona. She was a calm woman and not easily thrown off her guard, but as she made her answer she was conscious of an unpleasant sensation wholly new to her. She had never done anything concerning which she had reason to ask herself what Giovanni would think of it. For the first time since her marriage with him she knew that she had something to conceal. How, indeed, was it possible to tell him the story of Faustina’s wild doings? Giovanni was a man who knew the world, and had no great belief in its virtues. To tell him what had occurred would be to do Faustina an irreparable injury in his eyes. He would believe his wife, no doubt, but he would tell her that Faustina had deceived her. She cared little what he might think of Gouache, for she herself was incensed against him, believing that he must certainly have used some persuasion to induce Faustina to follow him, mad as the idea seemed.
Corona had little time for reflection, however. She could not stand upon the stairs, and as soon as she entered the house she must meet her husband. She made up her mind hurriedly to do what in most cases is extremely dangerous. Giovanni was in her boudoir, pale and anxious. He had forgotten that he had not dined that evening and was smoking a cigarette with short sharp puffs.
“Thank God!” he cried, as his wife entered the room. “Where have you been, my darling?”
“Giovanni,” said Corona, gravely, laying her two hands on his shoulders, “you know you can trust me—do you not?”
“As I trust Heaven,” he answered, tenderly.
“You must trust me now, then,” said she. “I cannot tell you where I have been. I will tell you some day, you have my solemn promise. Faustina Montevarchi is with her mother. I took her back, and told them she had followed me from the room, had lost her way in the house, and had accidentally fastened a door which she could not open. You must support the story. You need only say that I told you so, because you were out at the time. I will not lie to you, so I tell you that I invented the story.”
Sant’ Ilario was silent for a few minutes, during which he looked steadily into his wife’s eyes, which met his without flinching.
“You shall do as you please, Corona,” he said at last, returning the cigarette to his lips and still looking at her. “Will you answer me one question?”
“If I can without explaining.”
“That Zouave who brought the message from the Vatican—was he Gouache?”
Corona turned her eyes away, annoyed at the demand. To refuse to answer was tantamount to admitting the truth, and she would not lie to her husband.
“It was Gouache,” she said, after a moment’s hesitation.
“I thought so,” answered Sant’ Ilario in a low voice. He moved away, throwing his cigarette into the fireplace. “Very well,” he continued, “I will remember to tell the story as you told it to me, and I am sure you will tell me the truth some day.”